74 year old classic American Jewel,
Thornton Wilder's SKIN OF OUR TEETH
Berkeley High Schools Pulitzer prize winning 1915 alum Thornton Wilder, brings some of that “only in berkeley” nostalgia to his classic “Skin of our Teeth. Wilder is best known for “Our Town” and won a second Pulitzer for “Skin of our Teeth” in 1942. This 73 year old abstract three act play of American small town nostalgia is perfect.
Now on stage at Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward Ca, Artistic director Susan E. Evans brings this New Jersey family some real subtext and reflections of the 40’s in America. Wilder uses the “play within a play” style and the main characters often breaking the fourth wall to stop the play. The timeline of the story moves from pre historic moments to pre war 40’s as the parents celebrate their 5,000th wedding anniversary. The play was first staged in the midst of World War II, and remains a portrait of that time, and the universal meaning of life.
The company is well cast, we can see this story play out on a stage set up to be a stage, with the back set designed to view the actors as they ready for their scenes. Dale Albright plays the father George Antrobus who is crazed by all his inventions, including the wheel. Albright brings this baffled everyman some excellent comic timing, as he deals with not only bible floods and the depression, but a pet dinosaurs and mammoth played by Radhika Rao, and Caitlin Evenson. It could be Flintstone or Disney subtext, but in the 40’s they were still ten years off from those icons. Local favorite Alan Coyne, plays the very busy and impish son Henry, who is in constant stress with the family issues.
The framework of the play opens as we meet the narrator of sorts - Radio newsman played by Reg Clay, who pops up often to take us to other eras of the story. Clay is a class act and one of my favorites in this American fairy tale. Lauren Hayes carries much of the tale as the zingy housemaid Sabina, the maid who bonds with the audience as we see that she is our guide through this odyssey. She has a number of important monologues talking about the dangers of the times and sexual play for Henry and most any male visitors to the home. Mrs Antrobus, is played by the wonderful Cynthia Lagodzinski who embodies the loyal good wife and mother, she carries much of the second and third acts. As the second act opens we meet a fortune teller (Eve McElheney Tieck) who sets up the subtext of doom that is in the wings. Tieck is well cast and a favorite of many DMT productions.
Evans brings all the elements of this classic Wilder evening. Its does run long and you feel that at times. Evans says “Wilder draws from a variety of styles – from vaudeville and burlesque, melodrama, surrealism, absurdism, German Expressionism, even Brechtian Epic Theatre. He was an incredibly erudite man, well-read and well-traveled. He very much wanted to escape the confines of realistic theatre, and we will be exploring this theatrical self-consciousness, or meta-theatricality, as much as possible,”
The layered effective set was designed by Martin Flynn, and the highlight is the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the second act. Courtney Flores’ costumes are at times scattered all over the set as one of the change rooms is part of the play. The costumes are fitting and especially the furry Dino and Mammoth. The lighting is simple, designed by Chris Booras, yet the audience is caught up in extra house light cues as the actors talk to us. Original music was composed for this show by Donald Tieck as he appears in the shadows of the deep set behind his piano.
Other cast members to note includes Wendy Wyatt-Mair as the awkward daughter Gladys. Jon Wat as various characters always showing off his great comic skills. Laurie Gossett as the Muse, and Wayne Roadie as Homer, all well played. Skin of our Teeth is a classic, important work and this ensembled cast survives its edge of indifference as the play ends and begins again and again like it has, and it always will for centuries to come. This is an important piece of American theatre and congrats to the DMT for a shining evening of Wilder.
'THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH'
By Thornton Wilder,
presented by Douglas Morrisson Theatre Company,
Directed by Susan E. Evans
Through: June 14 2015
Douglas Morrisson Theatre, 22311 N. Third St., Hayward
Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, two intermissions
photos by Terry Sullivan